Autumn walks: Eltham

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Ruined gardens and a gothic castle…


View Eltham walk in a larger map

Distance 2.2 miles, time 2 hoursBy Chris Waywell

Good for families, dog owners and lovers of gothic romance, this walk offers autumn hues, picnic spots and a tower in a forest built by the grieving widow of a pirate-trouncing sea captain.

Severndroog Castle Severndroog Castle

Falconwood (35 minutes south-east from Charing Cross) (S), is usefully situated just by the woods where the walk starts. Turn right out of the station, cross the road and enter Shepherdleas Wood. Keep to the right, and you come out on to Rochester Way (1), which you need to cross to enter Oxleas Wood (2).

Some of the oldest woodland in southern England, Oxleas Wood dates back 8,000 years, and contains deciduous native species including oak, hornbeam and hazel. Its mood changes dramatically with the seasons; foreboding In winter, dappled in summer, or, as now, in glorious autumnal change.

If you need a restorative tea and a bun, there’s a café at the top of Oxleas Meadows on the west side of the wood, recently enhanced with a set of pistachio-green outdoor gym equipment. Take your sustenance and head west to the ruined gardens of the demolished Castle Woods House.  

Keeping to the high ground, continue to the top of the hill and the eccentric Severndroog Castle (3): not a Bristolian ‘Clockwork Orange’, but a 60ft triangular brick tower, built in 1784 by the widow of Sir William James, a naval captain, and named after his famous victory over the pirate king Tology Angrier at Suvarnadurg in India. 

With its glazed windows and multiple entrances, it is neither an imposing fortress nor a practical dwelling. Similarly, it is not now a picturesque ruin, nor a visitable attraction, so has maintained its status as a folly for nearly 250 years, supposedly the highest point between London and Paris. 

A recent Lottery grant should help ensure its preservation, though it’s hard to see what might ever be done with it, which is why I like it so much. One imagines Lady James atop it, gazing in one direction to the North Downs, and in the other to the naval buildings of Greenwich, the docks and the river, and thinking of her husband leaving and returning.

Carry on towards Shooter’s Hill road (4), along which buses run towards Blackheath, or walk down the impressive neglected terraces at the foot of the tower and head back to Falconwood Station.

Find out more about the project to restore Severndroog Castle at www.severndroogcastle.org.uk.

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